While legal and religious factors have long guided our moral compass, our traditional code of right and wrong has also been informing individual conduct for a considerable amount of time. In oral tradition, particular behaviours deemed to be unacceptable are often followed by examples of what happens when this code is ignored. Among the prohibitions listed by Seán Ó Súilleabháin in ‘A Handbook of Irish Folklore’, there are objections to interfering with holy people or places, keeping late hours, using forbidden speech, as well interfering with the natural world. Disrespect for the natural world, including the desecration of wells and particular trees, and interference with particular animals, may result in unfortunate outcomes for those who do not abide by this popular belief.
Researched by Josephine Weatherford and Brenda Quiroga, students from the MA in Irish Folklore and Ethnology, UCD, this project compiles examples of this belief from the National Folklore Collection. It draws on accounts about the desecration of wells and interference with certain trees and bushes and outlines some of the unfortunate results of this interference.